As longtime patrons of SteynOnline well know, every so often I'm minded, after the latest Absurdity of the Day, to caution that "sometimes a society becomes too stupid to survive". The latest example thereof, alas, is too sad and pathetic even for my dismal catchphrase. On Monday the Attorney-General of the United States addressed the National Sheriffs Association thus:
"I want to thank every sheriff in America. Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people's protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process... The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement."
"We must never erode this historic office," Sessions continued.
After which the world went nuts, starting with a CNN pearl-clutcher of a headline:
Sessions invokes 'Anglo-American heritage' of sheriff's office
The fact that expensively educated but ignorant reporters thought the phrase newsworthy made it even newsworthier - after which its newsworthiness became accusatory. Newsweek:
Jeff Sessions Faces Fresh Racism Charge After Praising 'Anglo-American Heritage of Law Enforcement'
Which prompted the usual professional grievance-mongers to weigh in:
NAACP Critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions Latest Racially-Tinged Statement
Followed by one of a mere hundred citizens, in a nation of a third of a billion, who gets to sit in the self-described "world's greatest deliberative body". United States Senator Brian Schatz deliberated thus:
Do you know anyone who says "Anglo-American heritage" in a sentence? What could possibly be the purpose of saying that other than to pit Americans against each other? For the chief law enforcement officer to use a dog whistle like that is appalling. Best NO vote I ever cast.
And then one of a mere 45 citizens, in a nation of a third of a billion, who gets to be lieutenant governor of an entire state. (My own is among the five that manage without, happily.) California gubernatorial candidate and current Number Two Gavin Newsom:
Reminder that our Attorney General is an outright racist who wants us all to acknowledge "Anglo-American heritage."
We live in wretchedly moronic times in which even senators, lieutenant governors and other panjandrums who bestride the land know nothing of anything that happened before last Tuesday. Yet one who cannot plead that excuse is a constitutional law professor - such as Harvard University's Laurence Tribe:
Good for @brianschatz! He's the real deal.
Indeed. Perhaps Senator Schatz will now call out other racist dog-whistlers, like this guy:
...one of the oldest privileges in Anglo-American jurisprudence...
Oh, hang on, that was Laurence Tribe who said that. Okay, what about this racist dog-whistler?
The foundational case in the Anglo-American legal tradition is Thomas Bonham v. College of Physicians, commonly known as Dr. Bonham's Case.
Oh, wait, that's Professor Tribe, too. Golly, you'd almost get the impression "Anglo-American" is a common term of reference to the legal heritage of the United States:
...a writ that has been in place in the Anglo-American legal system for over 700 years...
...the foundation of Anglo-American law...
...adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo-American legal system...
That's Jeff Sessions' fellow racist dog-whistler Barack Obama speaking variously as senator, presidential candidate and president - and all found after twenty seconds of Googling by my old National Review comrade Charles C W Cooke. All week long, I've been asked by readers to weigh in on this "fresh racism charge", and I honestly can't bear the thought: What's the point of "debating" with the likes of Schatz and Newsom, men of great eminence who know nothing and who are too stupid to resist advertising their stupidity to the world? Or with those such as Tribe, who surely know otherwise but are cheering on the know-nothings because they perceive it as advantageous to do so?
"Anglo-American" is (or was) a commonly understood expression ...in America, which broke away from England and thus concocted a phrase recognizing that the United States did not spring fully-formed from the head of Zeus on July 4th 1776 but was the beneficiary of a centuries-old legal inheritance that, notwithstanding its differences with George III, it chose to retain. Within the non-revolutionary parts of the English-speaking world - that's to say, Her Majesty's Dominions - we'd just say "English law". I certainly do:
...the defining characteristic of English law...
...the heart of English law...
...I rejoice in English law's ancient disdain for...
That doesn't mean laws for ethnic English persons, or white people, or hoity-toity types who star in upscale Oscar bait distributed by Harvey Weinstein's Open Bathrobe Pictures; it means a legal system developed in England and exported around the world - and distinct from alternative legal systems, such as the Napoleonic Code or Sharia or Native-American healing circles or whatever's your bag. Until well into our own time, acts of local legislatures around the Commonwealth could be struck down as "repugnant to the laws of England". Even today the ultimate court of appeal for many sovereign nations around the planet remains the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, where you'll find English law lords weighing in on cases from the Bahamas, Mauritius, Brunei, Jamaica, Kiribati... Even the ostentatiously ignorant such as Newsom or Schatz will recognize that those countries are not obviously white or "anglo".
Unlike Mauritius or Trinidad, the thirteen colonies revolted against England ...but they opted not to throw the jurisprudential baby out with the imperial bathwater: hence, "Anglo-American". Magna Carta, my book on which personally autographed copies of are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore, with special member pricing for Mark Steyn Club members ...where was I? Oh, right: Magna Carta is part of the American legal inheritance as much as it is part of the Australian.
To address the particular point of contention, sheriffs of varying roles are found not only in America but in Australia, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, India... Hmm. What do those countries have in common? At this point it's traditional on the Internet to type "Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?", perhaps accompanied by an amusing gif. But to be honest, I'm so bloody bored by a public discourse that has dwindled down to a handful of pop-culture references and nothing else - especially when, in this case, the very pop-culture reference is about a vast gaping absence of historical knowledge that has only metastasized in the three decades since Ben Stein articulated it, to the point where Senator Schatz and Lieutenant Governor Newsom can't even recall Robin Hood: "Oh, yeah. Kevin Costner. He came to my fundraiser. Sheriff of Nottingham, Sheriff of Orange County. Weird. Whassup with that?"
So instead Schatz and Newsom hear "Anglo-American" and assume it's like "African-American" or "Hispanic-American" - a racial identity group: The Obamas like their art "African-American", Jeff Sessions likes his sheriffs "Anglo-American". We are all tribalists now.
The societal moronization necessary to propel such a "controversy" to network news stories and leading newspaper headlines is profound and terrifying. In 2016, after my column in The Australian on Bill Leak's persecution by Oz's repulsive multiculti enforcers, Anthony Smith of Rainbow Beach, Queensland wrote to the paper's letters page:
What is being lost sight of is that there are those in our midst all too ready to exert state power by silencing intellectual rigour.
Mr Smith is referring to the way "politically correct" thought-policing is designed to shoo cartoonists and columnists and playwrights and university professors away from serious inquiry on ever more topics: every time the PC hard men make an example of a Bill Leak, they underline to ten thousand fainter-hearted souls that addressing certain subjects can be dangerous to your career prospects (fatally so, in Bill's case). But we've advanced far beyond questions of intellectual rigor to intellectual rigor mortis, to a world where, to demonstrate one's ideological bona fides, it is necessary to boast of what one doesn't know - until the most prominent beneficiaries of the "Anglo-American" inheritance (senators, lieutenant governors, Ivy League professors) are so unmoored from that inheritance that they can only stagger about in circles, skating deeper and deeper furrows into the ever thinner ice of the hyper-present tense.
Today's America may be vibrantly diverse, but its legal system, like that of other Common Law countries, remains largely English, not Haitian or Yemeni, or even Swedish or French. That may be unfortunate - #OscarsSoWhite, #CourtroomsSoAnglo, etc - but it's nevertheless what we used to call a fact - or reality. And to deny reality is not a small thing. It is, in fact, a defining attribute of totalitarian societies, which find themselves always obliged to enforce official lies.
So our descent into self-moronization will not end well. It is revealing that Schatz and Newsom and Tribe all took to Twitter, instantly. One day someone less well-guarded than the Attorney-General will accidentally say "Anglo-American" in a speech or radio interview and be clubbed to a pulp as he's returning home. One wonders, indeed, whether it wouldn't be better just to cut to the chase and get on with a full-scale civil war. Which side would you bet on? In 1597, Sir Francis Bacon wrote:
Ipsa scientia potestas est.
That's Latin-American for "Knowledge itself is power".
Oh, yeah? Sez who? Some guy who invented bacon? How Islamophobic is that? Knowledge is power, France is bacon: What's the diff? Maybe, in a new age of sustained historical vandalism and instant mass media, ignorance is power - which is why Brian Schatz gets to confirm federal judges and you don't.
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